Korean-English translation is challenging for humans and machines alike.  Machine translation programs that turn in a respectable performance on common European language pairs like German-English often fail spectacularly when faced with Korean-English.

But in our busy modern world, it’s often necessary to turn to a machine translation to just get a rough idea of what is in a patent and whether it might be worth paying for a professional translation.

Here are some machine translation services for Korean patents:

  • KIPRIS has free machine translations of published Korean patents and patent applications.  (But the translations are offered from the document view, so the document you’re hoping to translate will need to have already been published by KIPO.)
  • IBM Watson also offers free Korean-English machine translations of patents. (Select “Patent” domain.)
  • The EPO offers the K2E-PAT service from KIPO (non-free; currently EUR 26 per document).

In addition, of course, it is possible to use any of the standard retain machine translation services, such as Google or Bing Translate.




Putting machine translation services to the test



Fig. 12 from Korean patent application No. 10-2011-0063973, illustrating the nitride layer formation process.


How do these services stack up?  Since so many Korean patents are in the semiconductor field, let’s sample a random sentence from the specification of one semiconductor patent application filed by Samsung Electronics. 

The application we’ll look at is No. 10-2011-0063973, “인-시츄 공정을 이용한 산화막/질화막/산화막(ONO) 구조의 절연막 형성 방법.”

Happily for our purposes, a US version of this application has also been filed. It was granted as US Patent 8,932,964, “Method of forming a dielectric layer having an ONO structure using an in-situ process.”

So here first are the original Korean text of the paragraph alongside a professional English rendering:

Sentence from ROK patent application Same sentence from US patent
이어서, 도 1, 도 3, 및 도 12를 참조하여, 질화막(220)의 표면을 제2 질소 플라즈마 처리한다(S500). Referring to FIGS. 1, 3 and 12, a surface of the nitride layer 220 may be subjected to a second nitrogen plasma treatment (S500).

And here are how the different services translate this fairly simple Korean sentence:


Subsequently, fig. 1, and fig. 3 processes with plasma the surface of the nitride film (220) with reference to 12 the second nitrogen (S500).


Then, 12, 3, and 1, the nitrogen plasma 2 the surface of nitride (220) (S500).

Google Translate:

Then, 1, 3, and referring to Fig. 12, the second nitrogen plasma treatment the surface of the nitride film (220) (S500).

As these examples show, it may often be necessary to compare the output of several machine translations to get a rough idea of what the source text is saying.